Identity,  Virtual Identity

Stalking the Undefinable Me

I usually avoid filling out web profiles. I supply vague answers where I must and skip the rest. Even my profile pictures tend toward, vague, misty, barely there.

Once I took one of those personality tests that is supposed to define who you are. It was part of an on-the-job workshop, something to teach us to understand customers better. The workshop leader grabbed my form from the stack of results and held it up for the group to see.

 “Look,” she said, “I’ve never seen one like this before. It’s almost a perfect flat line. This is just what we want to strive for.”

She went on to explain that the flat line indicated that I had no particularly dominant personality traits, my preferences spread evenly across the spectrum between dreamers, doers, thinkers and so on.

“That’s a good thing,” she promised, “rare, but just what we want. It means you get along with all sorts of people.”

Hmm. I think my boss might have had a contradictory opinion about how easy I was to get along with. He and I didn’t get along at all. He might have pointed out that indecisiveness probably had more to do with the result than anything. But that test was my first glimpse of my lack of definition. 

It’s been a few years. Not much has changed. I realized this week that my avatar for Nara Malone  has remained a cloud for the entire year or so I’ve had it. I never bothered to download a shape, or skin, or even eyes. I felt no particular need to define myself in all that time. When I was Nara Malone, I was an orange cloud, a spirit.

Ironically, my virtual world alter ego, Nara Mistwood (a name I acquired back when Second Life insisted all members use a last name from a list) has more avatar identities than I can count. A friend teased, there’s something wrong here–”Shouldn’t Ms. Mistwood be the misty one?”


I’m a writer.  I should be able to define myself with a few words. So I put on my romance writer hat and wrote to the following prompt:

This is what i am

i am a canvas,
waiting on a story,
waiting like the bare winter ground,
waiting to be covered.

Will it come to me
chillingly soft, like a snow fall
send a shiver skimming over my nooks and hollows?
Or, will it settle gently over me like a down blanket?

Will it pour words on me like a shower,
fill the nooks and trickle into the hollows?
Or, will it turn hard and bind me tight like an ice storm
holding me captive in the cyrstal clarity of the plot’s will?

Okay, so far I am blank canvas waiting to be filled with words. I tried turning my muse loose on the same prompt from her viewpoint.

This is what i am
today i am a should
a duty that clings
to Your conscience

i have fallen into the void
at the bottom
of your to-do list

the place where all Your passions land
your writing, your art, your desires
the things that strip you naked, make you feel

you are turning this should into trouble
trouble waiting to happen
trouble that knows how to get attention

i could wait quietly like a proper should
like dessert waiting
for you to finish your peas

or you could strike the match
we could become a flame
give that to-do list a long hot kiss

leave it in cinders

the question becomes
what do You desire
what makes you burn or not burn
that is who you are

Muses, like dreams, tend to talk in code. Unlike me she is allowed to head hop from her viewpoint to mine. Then again, we’re both me… Things are still looking a bit misty.

So turning this around, I look at Nara Mistwood and her virtual inventory of possibilities. In the last week she has been a tiger, a lizard, a male selkie and a female selkie.  In her defense–or my defense–all that shape-shifting is work related. Still, that doesn’t help clear up the fuzzy identity.

As much as I admire and envy people who know who they are and what they want, I’m not one. I can’t give up all the possible Naras lurking inside. Once I trade pencil for pen, start inking in permanent details, I let go of other options. Virtual worlds give me the chance to explore all the options, let me be anything I can imagine.

So who Is Nara Malone?

I had to answer this same question for a writing class several years ago. The night before I had to turn in the essay I was still staring at blank page. When I finally gave up and went to bed I dreamed I was a forest and bulldozers came to carve me up, tame me into something more civilized. I wound up as a subdivision of rectangles, white houses surrounded by hedges. In the morning I had an answer for the essay. I don’t think the answer has changed with time.


I envy the beauty of a formal garden.
I imagine appearing neatly clipped, colors coordinated.
What a wonderful thing it would be to think in tidy paths
taking me past each important element.

All my blooms would open at the proper time,
in proper order, and in their proper place.
All would arrange themselves around an exquisite centerpiece
of good sense and logic.

I’m more like a tangled wood,
honeysuckle vines and thorned blackberries marking my borders,
tiny violets hiding in my shadows.

I’m a web of branches and green growth,
reaching for sun and sky by day,
moon and stars by night.
My roots burrow into a rich carpet,
exploring depths that feed growth.

At my center — a twisting, babbling stream
of moods, ideas, desires, and dreams.
I envy the order of a formal garden,
but my soul knows it could never grow there.

~Nara Malone


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